A Systems Approach to Creating an Innovation Funding Board

Craig Wirkus, Cisco


Cisco’s five pillar strategy for innovation: Build, Buy, Partner, Invent, and Co-Develop.


Craig runs the Services Innovation Excellence Center for Cisco. The mission of this team is “to help teams to drive business impact through innovation.”


SIEC seeks to foster an intrapreneurial mindset by having conversations about pivots and by providing rigor and process. “It’s easy for an engineer to disappear into a corner, create something that fares terribly well in the market in two years.” The mindset requires toughness and fortitude.


“We’ve built an Incubation Framework,” says Wirkus, that is completely agnostic, rich in examples, methods, and processes. The goal is to provide tools.


“We also developed a Managing Innovation Playbook,” he says. SIEC also offers innovation coaching and mentoring to provide business expertise, technical expertise, and incubation expertise.


“Engineers don’t know how to size a market opportunity, that’s weird juju to them, so we provide resources to help them,” Wirkus adds. We have also begun a three-day Startup bootcamp that is focused on human-centered design. “The engineers get antsy when they have to deal with people rather than things for the first day-and-a-half.” After this immersion into the people-side empathy, a minimally viable product gets built.


What we’ve learned.

There’s no silver bullet. Provide playbooks, coaching, and programs. Stay rigorously customer-center.


Now, Craig spends time on their internal venture capital model. Using an innovation funding board and set budget helps stimulate real process. “We treat people like adults, give a little guidance, but make it as simple as possible,” he says. Due diligence is customer-centered learning—this is the main point of the stress test.


Teams track implementation readiness as a progress measure against key milestones. The outputs include: Opportunity Charter, an Initial Discovery-driven Business Plan, an Interim Discovery-driven business plan, and an Implementation Business Plan.